The ending of milk quotas in 2015 and strong anticipated growth in liquid milk consumption in emerging markets makes this a time of major opportunity for the dairy industry. Cork-based biotech company Luxcel is hoping to profit from the expected boom with a groundbreaking quality testing system for dairy products called GreenLight, aimed at the international dairy market.
Rigorous testing is already commonplace in the dairy sector with major producers running up to 5,000 tests per day. However, traditional testing can be slow, cumbersome and not completely accurate. The Luxcel system has been designed to be very easy to use and to supply speedy, accurate results in volume applications.
"Our technology monitors the ability of the bacteria to grow in the actual dairy matrix, by which I mean in the liquid milk or in the milk/dairy powder," explains Richard Fernandes, who co-founded Luxcel with Prof Dmitri Papkovsky in 2002. "It's faster and more sensitive than standard technologies and it picks up spoilage that current technologies are missing."
Since its formation, Luxcel has been focused on developing technologies for end-users rather than on blue-skies research. “We are very much an applied biotech company working in the field of phosphorescence and fluorescence-based sensors. Within nine months of launching, we had our first product in the market and were selling to some of the biggest companies in the pharma sector,” Fernandes says.
“Our approach from the outset has been to partner with major players to commercialise our products. Contrary to what people might think, they are open to talking to small young companies with proven scientific credentials and good ideas.
"Our research frequently appeared in peer-review journals so people knew we existed. We also won the Intertrade Ireland seed corn award in 2003 and that brought us to the attention of companies looking for new technologies to drive their R&D."
Luxcel's partners for GreenLight are the Nasdaq-quoted Mocon, a world leader in permeation and package-integrity testing; and Tipperary-based biotechnology company Technopath.
“GreenLight is a game-changing solution for the dairy industry,” Fernandes says. “Existing tests miss significant levels of contamination and spoilage. They are also laborious with poor throughput, and it takes two or three days to get a result. Our test delivers same-day results. GreenLight enables real-time analysis. In so doing, it dramatically improves the quality and hygiene of the dairy supply chain.
“Our oxygen-sensing technology platform is also flexible and convenient to implement, and can facilitate the potential integration and testing of the entire milk supply chain, from cow to carton,” he adds. “We have a number of major international dairy companies already testing the technology – and these early adopters are seeing a big improvement in quality analysis.”
Luxcel is a spin-out from University College Cork and is based at Gateway UCC, the college's Incubation and Innovation Centre. The company employs 10 people, primarily scientists educated to PhD level.
Luxcel works mainly in the pharmaceuticals, food safety, packaging and dairy sectors. Fernandes says it took about three years to develop GreenLight at a cost of about €10 million. This was funded by the three partners.
“What’s really exciting for us about GreenLight is that this is our opportunity to do something major for Irish companies and the Irish economy. Some of the biggest players in the dairy sector are here, and Ireland’s reputation abroad for dairy products is second to none. GreenLight is a quantum leap in terms of quality improvement and can only help make these companies even more successful.”